There’s a lot of talk today about what’s new in the world of marketing; social media; social marketing; crowdsourcing; social business, etc.
Sometimes in the rush to be on the cutting edge in our marketing efforts today, we forget that successful businesses were built long before game-changing tools like the Internet and social media became popular. The reason? Historically, strong, successful businesses have been built on a long-term vision centered around a consistent interaction between business Objectives (What you want to achieve) and Strategies (How you will meet your objectives).
The tendency today is to go straight to Tactics — tools you will use to build the business — before the Objectives and Strategies are set. One good example is the number of companies who jump early into social media — thinking this will shortcut the route to gaining customers — before establishing foundational Objectives and Strategies.
These companies tend to believe they can shortcut the route to success by using social media to “Yell and Sell,” built around the idea that “if we build it (a Facebook page), they will come.” It won’t work. Case in point: How many one-year old Facebook business pages are there with less than 20 followers and only a few early posts?
Forget Yell and Sell
In 1978, Al Ries and Jack Trout published a groundbreaking book that helps us understand why these companies fail. The book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind proposed what was then a radical new approach to marketing. At that time, the culture of Yell and Sell had become highly ingrained in business. Ries and Trout turned heads with the premise that companies don’t position products, people do.
Up until that time, the focus of brand marketing (and positioning) for most companies had been to tell the customer what to think about their brand or product. This approach assumed that a consumer was going to simply take the company’s word about the brand (“We’re the best tasting beer in the world”) as true and act on it. And, oddly enough, many companies still market themselves in this way — especially on social media. The problem with this approach? It doesn’t work, especially in today’s over communicated world.
This seems obvious when you think about it. But it’s amazing how much marketing still goes on today driven by the premise that we can direct a customer what to believe. How many websites or press releases do you see with the word “Leading” in the primary copy? “BobCo is the leading widget maker in the world.” Hold on a minute. I buy my widgets from FredCo, so, to me, BobCo is not the “leading widget maker in the world.”
Ries and Trout drill down on this topic in a discussion about a marketer’s battle for the mind. Put simply, marketing is really nothing more than a battle for a customer’s share of mind. And in that consumer’s mind, there are pegs on which we hang beliefs about the company (positive or negative): Trustworthy; Reliable; Cool; Cutting-edge, Expensive, Faulty, Failing, etc. The greater the share of mind a brand has — on a large scale basis — the higher the chance that customers will agree with the company when they profess to be a leader. Companies that come to mind include Apple, Zappos, Amazon.
A step in the right direction in BobCo becoming the leading widget maker in the world is for the company to get my business first, and this won’t be easy because FredCo already has my share of mind when it comes to widgets. In order for BobCo to get my business, several things have to take place.
First, I need to become aware of BobCo. Awareness marketing can happen a number of ways, including Word of Mouth, Public Relations, Advertising. If I’ve never heard of you, you have zero share of mind with me and you’re not the leading anything in the world. Even worse, if I have heard of you but have a negative perception, you’re definitely not the leader. And if that’s the case (I’ve heard of you, but have a negative perception) and you claim to be the Leader, you actually have spent marketing dollars to hurt your brand image.
Positioning: How Do I Start?
You have to influence my perception of you, and over time, that consistent influence can result in change. A good place to start in changing the level of influence for a brand in a customer’s mind is by researching your market, your customer, and your desired customer — benchmarking how, in general, people perceive your brand (or industry), and building your messaging strategies from the consumer’s point of view about your company, not your point of view. Google Surveys is an inexpensive and easy way to start doing this kind of research.
Public Relations is a tool you can use to work on shifting your image and CRM (i.e. email marketing) is a way to start, and build a relationship with current and potential customers.
In today’s socially connected world, brands have a great opportunity to build awareness and increase share of mind through social marketing. Facebook, for example, has an extremely deep and robust advertising and promotions interface, one that is extremely targetable and cost efficient. For less than $10 per week, you can start to advertise or boost your Facebook posts to a targeted audience. But remember, don’t sell right off the bat. Consider boosting posts from your page that are informative and educational, building share of mind equity with your customer as a go to and knowledgeable resource.
Positioning is not easy, and there are no shortcuts. If it was, everyone would be a “Leader” in their own category. But even though it’s not easy, it can be done. So get started by defining or honing your business objectives and strategies and go from there. Once you become recognized as The Leader in your category, you’ll be glad you did. You’ll spend less money on Yell and Sell, and you can take that to the bank!
And, even though it was published in the 70s, reading Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind would be a great place to start getting on the right track to building your business to last.
Bill Threlkeld is the president of Threlkeld Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm that helps small businesses develop the right marketing strategies to grow their businesses and meet financial goals. He can be reached at email@example.com